“We can see within five years apps moving from novelty to mainstream,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
A recent report Aitken co-authored, based on a study of nearly 43,700 purported health or medical apps available on Apple's iTunes app store, found that only 54% of them were “genuine” healthcare apps. Of those, 69% targeted consumers and patients while 31% were built for use by clinicians. Most of the consumer healthcare apps were “simple in design and do little more than provide information,” according to the IMS report. Only 159 of the consumer apps could track or capture user-entered data, and fewer than 50 relate to condition management or provide tools and calculators for users to measure their vitals. That leaves “considerable room for growth in this sector,” the report said.
Aitken predicted that it will become commonplace for patients to leave the doctor's office with a prescription for both a drug and an app, and hospital discharge orders for patients will include downloading a mobile app on a patient's smartphone to provide an ongoing link between the provider and the patient. That will lead to better care and lower cost, he said.
For now, though, readers responding to this year's second annual Modern Healthcare survey for the Most Important Mobile Medical Applications said they continue to rely on old standbys among apps, defined as downloadable software programs that are mobile device-specific. In all, respondents identified 83 apps and devices performing 46 primary functions.
Epocrates was their top choice as the most important app for the second year in a row, followed by Medscape, Micromedex and WebMD. These top four clinician-oriented mobile medical apps—and seven in the top 10—were launched by companies founded in the 1990s or earlier. Other venerable apps in the top 10 were Lexicomp, started on paper in 1978; UpToDate, whose company was launched in 1992; and PatientKeeper, whose company was founded in 1998, with the app launched in 1999 for the Palm Pilot.
The most popular mobile medical app function in the survey was drug reference, followed by general medical reference and personal fitness. Fitbit, a wearable, consumer-oriented fitness application, ranked high among readers' choices.
In an interesting twist, readers also chose some mobile devices as their favorite apps, including iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, the generic “smartphone,” and the generic laptop computer. The search engine Google and generic e-mail also received votes from some survey respondents.
Two of the top picks of Dr. Colin Banas, chief medical information officer at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in Richmond, were old school—the drug reference tool UpToDate and the charge and capture tool PatientKeeper. His No. 3 was VisualDx, an image-based diagnostic support tool further down on the Modern Healthcare list.
“Truthfully, UpToDate is light years ahead,” Banas said. But it's subscription-based, so the cost probably limits its use compared with some of its free competitors. “Fortunately, I'm at an academic medical center and they pay for it. It's the No. 1 resource in our institution.” He added that it's especially useful as a teaching tool.
PatientKeeper ties in with his center's clinical and billing systems. “I can see clinical data on my app and drop charges for patients I see, which is really slick and a huge timesaver,” he said. VisualDx has a dermatology focus, with “lots and lots of pictures,” and it “helps you get a differential diagnosis.”
Renee Hofman, vice president for pharmacy services at Jewish Home Lifecare, a multi-campus long-term care organization in New York, uses multiple computerized drug references. But her favorite when she's out and about is Micromedex. “It's easy. It's quick. And it's handy to get drug and dosing information quickly if you're not familiar with the product,” Hofman said. She also picked Epocrates and Medscape. Hofman would like to see a mobile app that interfaces with all Medicare Part D drug plans. Early in the history of the federal drug-benefit program, Epocrates covered that need, Hofman said. But since then plans have diverged in the drugs they cover.
Why did some respondents name devices, Google and e-mail as their favorite “apps”? Readers said, for example, that the iPhone gave them immediate access to e-mail and communications, and that their iPad was quick and stores lots of information.
“I'm not surprised by those answers,” said Chris Wasden, managing director in the U.S. of the healthcare strategy and innovation practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “These are tools they've used for a long time and they're comfortable with them, and they're available in a mobile format.” He said there is convergence occurring in the minds of practitioners between apps and their delivery mechanisms.
About 95 million Americans used their mobile phones either as healthcare tools or to find health information, according to a survey of more than 8,600 adults released in October by Manhattan Research, a New York-based healthcare marketing research firm. That's up 27% from 75 million in 2012. Smartphones have become an “indispensible” source of healthcare information for many, with 38% of smartphone users saying their device was “essential” for finding health and medical information.